There’s no question that substantial hype is building around the concept of cloud data services such as those being advertised by Apple and Amazon. The idea of moving one’s music, photos, documents and other data onto an online server where it would then be accessible from any Internet connected device is appealing to many people, as it promises a new type of digital freedom. There may, however, be some hidden costs on the horizon that could serve as roadblocks to the widespread adoption of the cloud.
Perhaps the biggest question mark hovering in the background of the entire data cloud service model is the inflexibility of American internet service providers (ISPs) with regards to their bandwidth consumption policies. Broadband Internet access is a key component of any data cloud strategy, because without a fast and reliable way to access your files the entire system collapses. Broadband bandwidth is a limited resource, in the sense the Internet service providers must pay for the amount that their users consume, and most of the major players in the American market have adopted a number of policies that threaten the potential offered by cloud data services.
One of the most common ways an ISP keeps handle on bandwidth use is to charge customers additional fees for “over-consumption.” By establishing upload and download caps, and by attaching a dollar value to each additional gigabyte transferred past these arbitrary limits, ISPs are able to effectively chill or at least monetize their heaviest users. Moving to a cloud service where all data must be regularly moved back and forth across a broadband connection to and from a third-party server could easily force subscribers to either upgrade their data plans (mobile or home) or avoid cloud services altogether. Best case scenario: it costs that much more to use Apple or Amazon’s service due to either bandwidth surcharges or more expensive Internet access fees associated with plans that avoid these surcharges.
ISPs also engage in “traffic shaping,” or bandwidth throttling in an effort to keep data-hungry customers from absorbing all of the available resources devoted to their connection. This type of strategy de-prioritizes the bandwidth requests made by specific users who have been identified as “bandwidth hogs,” slowing down their service so that other traffic can get through. This unpopular ISP practice essentially becomes untenable in the face of widespread data cloud service adoption, as it would be necessary to throttle almost all customer traffic in order to achieve bandwidth parity amongst users. If traffic shaping is no longer an option, then more ISPs will be forced to adopt economic penalties associated with heavy data downloading and uploading, increasing broadband costs across the board.
Cloud data services face more than just the challenge of changing consumer mentalities about the stability and security of online information storage. Amazon and Apple are also up against a broadband Internet market that is specifically designed to discourage the high rates of data consumption that cloud use relies upon. The hidden costs of cloud data services could very well kill the momentum behind these unique consumer products before they have the chance to prove their value.
Author Jason Lancaster works with InternetServiceProviders.org, a website that helps consumers find the best deal on Internet service in Florida and across the USA.